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USA 2012
Directed by
Tim Burton
87 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3.5 stars


Synopsis: Young Victor is a smart science nerd with few friends other than his beloved dog Sparky. When Sparky is tragically killed Victor finds a way to bring his beloved pet back to life. The school science prize is looming, and when Victor’s reanimation techniques are discovered by Victor’s competitive classmates, the whole town soon discovers that bringing dead things back to life can be mighty risky.

Tim Burton originally made Frankenweenie as a short in 1984 for Disney but the studio dispensed with both his film and his services as a result. Times have changed and he’s back directing it as a full-length feature for Disney as a stop-motion 3D animation, apparently the first feature-length animated film to be shot in black and white.

It is no surprise to learn that many of Burton’s favourite horror movie characters are here, albeit in altered guises. Young Victor (voiced by Charlie Tahan) is the son of Dr & Mrs Frankenstein (Catherine O’Hara and Martin Short), and just like his famous namesake he is very fond of science experiments. His beloved science teacher, Mr Rzykruski (Martin Landau) is more than a little reminiscent of Vincent Price, all mysterious, thin-faced and heavily accented, and full of dire warnings about science’s ability to be used for good or evil. Victor’s classmate, Nassor, has ghastly teeth and a stooped posture recalling Igor from innumerable haunted house movies. The next door neighbour’s daughter Elsa van Helsing (voiced by Burton favourite, Winona Ryder) has a well-known antecedent, whilst a whole raft of other horror characters (among them Godzilla and killer bats) also make an appearance.

As ever Burton blends his love of creaky horror with a tongue-in-cheek fondness for cheesy TV family shows of the 1950s and 60s.  The suburban town of New Holland where Victor lives is a cross between Edward Scissorhands-like suburbia and a classically gothic Transylvania. The film opens with the Frankenstein family watching their own home video of young Victor with Sparky, then moving onto a program of Dracula movies.

This is Burton’s third stop-motion animation and the shooting took two years and more than 200 puppets, including 18 Victors and 15 Sparkys. Burton’s researchers visited dog shows to really nail how a dog moves, not only Sparky but also Persephone the prissy poodle next door. Each of the kids is unique, and while facially they are quite simple, everything about their movements and the setting they operate in is anything but. When it comes to Victor’s lab up in the attic no detail is spared, and while we know we are watching animation, in some scenes it feels as “real” as a live action movie.

The film comes with a warning and a reservation. The warning is for those foolish parents who think anything animated is suitable for kiddies of any age. There is enough scary stuff here, just as there is with many horror films, that should make it unsuitable for kids under about eight. Much of the humour and references will possibly only be understood by adults, but kids will get the lovely theme of a boy’s love for his dog and his desire to do anything to bring the animal back. My reservation is to do with the ending which for me was a cop-out from one of the film’s major themes, but no doubt others will see it as being totally in synch with the sort of 1950s happy endings we used to love. Whichever way, Frankenweenie is a fun, clever and delightful twist on the good old-fashioned horror template.





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